Discovered just before extinction? The first endemic ant from the Balearic Islands (Lasius balearicus sp. nov.) is endangered by climate change

Talavera G., Espadaler X., Vila R. (2015) Discovered just before extinction? The first endemic ant from the Balearic Islands (Lasius balearicus sp. nov.) is endangered by climate change. Journal of Biogeography. 42: 589-601.
Link
Doi: 10.1111/jbi.12438

Abstract:

Aim: We analyse the taxonomic status, phylogenetic relationships, distribution and age of a newly discovered ant taxon found in the mountaintops of the island of Mallorca (Spain). We also consider the potential impact of short-term climate change on the survival of this ant and make proposals on its conservation status, risks and management. Location: Balearic Islands (Spain). Methods: We used morphological, molecular and ecological evidence to assess the specific status of the potential new species. We gathered distribution data to conduct climate-based distribution modelling of present and future occupancy under several SRES emission scenarios. Results: The existence of a new non-cryptic species of ant (Lasius balearicus Talavera, Espadaler & Vila, sp. nov.) is described from the island of Mallorca. Its distribution was found to be extremely restricted (Serra de Tramuntana) and elevationally constrained to island summits (between 800 and 1400 m a.s.l.). Molecular dating indicated that this species diverged about 1.51 million years ago from its nearest relatives, from which it can be distinguished based on several morphological traits. Ecological niche modelling shows a dramatic reduction of areas with suitable climatic conditions under the different scenarios studied. Main conclusions: Lasius balearicus represents the first endemic ant to be described in the Balearic Islands, as well as the first endemic Lasius species in the Mediterranean islands. Distribution modelling predictions, the low intraspecific genetic diversity observed, and the geographical and elevational isolation of the populations indicated a low probability for the survival of the species in the short term, thus making it a potential model to study real-time climate-based biodiversity loss. As a consequence, we strongly recommend including L. balearicus in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species under the category 'Endangered'. This case illustrates that a fraction of biodiversity remains unexplored even within Europe, arguably the best-studied region of the planet, and that the available time-window for us to study and protect it may be in some instances notably narrow. © 2014 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

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Rapid increase of the parasitic fungus Laboulbenia formicarum in supercolonies of the invasive garden ant Lasius neglectus

Tragust S., Feldhaar H., Espadaler X., Pedersen J.S. (2015) Rapid increase of the parasitic fungus Laboulbenia formicarum in supercolonies of the invasive garden ant Lasius neglectus. Biological Invasions. 17: 2795-2801.
Link
Doi: 10.1007/s10530-015-0917-0

Abstract:

A key feature among invasive ant species is their ability to dominate vast areas by forming dense networks of connected nests in contrast to the smaller and discrete, spatially dispersed colonies of most social insects. However, it was recently proposed that such supercolonies are more vulnerable to infection by parasites and diseases as they would serve as large targets with high rates of transmission from nests to nest. We studied the invasive garden ant Lasius neglectus, a pest species currently spreading throughout Europe. Several populations are infected with an ectoparasitic fungus, Laboulbenia formicarum, itself an introduced species, yielding a new host–parasite relationship. Long-term monitoring of the prevalence and intensity of infection in two populations (supercolonies) over 4–10 years revealed epizootic spread of the parasite with a 14 % annual increase in prevalence until ca. 80 % of all ants were infected. In contrast, no other local ant species with discrete colonies carried the parasite, although a local species (Lasius niger) proved susceptible in a cross-infection experiment. These results support the hypothesis that supercolonies potentially face an important challenge from parasites and diseases, with interesting perspectives for biological control of such ant species. © 2015, Springer International Publishing Switzerland.

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